Photo: Bloomberg Photo By Alex Kraus.
The year 2018 was very good for the car industry. According to Cox Automotive, U.S. auto sales are expected to total 17.2 million units in the year, which is more than 2017 and the fourth year in a row to beat 17 million, finishing above the firm’s earlier forecasts.
But I am already looking forward to what I can get my hands on in 2019.
For starters, there’s the convertible version of the Bentley Continental GT, which was one of my favorite cars from 2018, as well as the convertible version of the McLaren 720S, which got a rather mixed review from me. I’m hoping the open-air version is more exciting – or improved, technology-wise (hey, it could happen!) – than the coupe.
I’m also eager to try the next-generation Porsche 911, the 992. As the next-generation continuation of a 54-year-old icon, it has a lot to prove, and a lot to lose, if Porsche doesn’t get it right.
But one car stands out above all the rest as the single most essential vehicle I must drive in 2019: the Porsche Taycan.
A lot is riding on this otherwise humble four-door sedan. For starters, this is Porsche’s first move into general-production electrified cars (the 918 Spyder hybrid doesn’t count). And it’ll play a crucial role in the Volkswagen lineup as VW executes a plan to become more agile while it faces major shifts in the auto industry. The strategy centers on streamlining operations to goose profits by billions of dollars over eight years – all while VW makes expensive-to-manufacture electric cars such as the Taycan, without passing along the additional costs to consumers.
It’s also the brand’s first direct challenge to Tesla, which has dominated the luxury electric market since the Model S debuted. From a product standpoint, the Taycan promises some exceptional capabilities. Porsche executives say it will have a range of 250 miles, after charging in fewer than 20 minutes. It is expected to have a total system output of more than 600 horsepower and accelerate to 62 mph in fewer than 3.5 seconds.
In theory, it will hit at a time when potential Tesla consumers are less patient with poor build quality, endless wait times and the latest antics from Tesla founder Elon Musk. It will also need to fend off other contenders on this front, including Volvo’s Polestar line, BMW’s Vision iNext vehicles, and Jaguar’s excellent I Pace SUV.
Taycan won’t be the only Volkswagen Group-mounted attack: Porsche is investing more than €6 billion ($6.9 billion) through 2022 on electric mobility; by 2025, it says, half the vehicles Porsche produces, such as an electric version of the Macan, will be all-electric or hybrid. (Even the upcoming 992 has room for a hybrid powertrain.) Audi, too, will be sharing the same electric powertrain and 60 percent of the Taycan components in its forthcoming GT. But as the first, it’s the most important.
Along with spending all that cash, Porsche has joined with such competitors as BMW, Daimler and Ford to develop fast-charging infrastructures in Europe. They’re using racing such as Formula E as a testing bed to develop technology they use in those races for electric cars they can sell to consumers. Five years ago, I’d never have expected to see either happen. It all shows how much the automakers need this to work.
Yet this blockbuster car is no sure thing. The few times I was in Stuttgart in 2018, the factory in which the Taycan will be manufactured was under construction.
The biggest challenge Porsche faces might be from its own loyalists. Read through any mention on social media about Porsche’s forthcoming electric endeavor and you’ll have to wade through haters, trolls and brand purists who decry the vehicle as lame, neutered, ugly and a host of other things unprintable here.
These hardcore gearheads say an electric Porsche is no Porsche. It needs to be aspirated with air or water or something, they say, and the engine needs to rumble and crackle and pop. But if it looks like a Porsche and drives well, I don’t think the wider population will care one bit.
And having seen it most recently in Mexico City, I can vouch for its relative good looks. (Though I’d like to see it in slate gray, with different wheels.)
One thing is for sure: This will be the most important single vehicle Porsche has launched. And you’ll probably see the Taycan coming before you hear it. In the meantime, I need to drive that car!